In the past 20 years, new coronaviruses have emerged from animals with remarkable regularity. In 2002, SARS-CoV jumped from civets into people. Ten years later, MERS emerged from camels. Then in 2019, SARS-CoV-2 began to spread around the world.
For many scientists, this pattern points to a disturbing trend: Coronavirus outbreaks aren’t rare events and will likely occur every decade or so.
Now, scientists are reporting that they have discovered what may be the latest coronavirus to jump from animals into people. And it comes from a surprising source: dogs.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first exploded, Dr. Gregory Gray started to wonder whether there might be other coronaviruses out there already making people sick and threatening to trigger another outbreak.
The problem was that he didn’t have a tool to look for them. The test for COVID-19, he says, is extremely limited. It tells whether one particular virus — SARS-CoV-2 — is present in a person’s respiratory tract, and nothing else.
“Diagnostics are very specific. They generally focus on known viruses,” says Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University’s Global Health Institute.
So he challenged a graduate student in his lab, Leshan Xiu, to make a more powerful test — one that would work like a COVID-19 test but could detect all coronaviruses, even the unknown ones.
Xiu not only rose to the challenge, but the tool he created worked better than expected.
In the first batch of samples tested last year, Gray and Xiu found evidence of an entirely new coronavirus associated with pneumonia in hospitalized patients — mostly in kids. This virus may be the eighth coronavirus known to cause disease in people, the team reports Thursday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.